Thornycroft’s shipbuilding yard opened in Woolston, Southampton in 1904 and it delivered its first ship for the Royal Navy, HMS Tartar, in 1906.

Over the years it became known for building destroyers and it provided employment for many Sotonians.

In 1966, it merged with the Vosper Company in Portsmouth to form Vosper Thornycroft. Some may remember when a young Princess Anne launched her first ship HMS Amazon at the Woolston yard in 1971.

Sir John Isaac Thornycroft (1843-1928) was a pioneer of naval architecture, built the first recorded high speed boat in 1871, the first torpedo boat for the Royal Navy in 1879 and developed improved hull, propeller and boiler designs.

He was born in Rome, the son of two distinguished sculptors, Thomas Thornycroft and Mary Francis, who were then studying art at the Vatican. They produced the Boudicca statues on the Embankment by Westminster Bridge in London.

His brother, Hamo Thornycroft was also a sculptor.

John’s uncle was war poet Sigfried Sassoon.

A son, Isaac, won two gold sailing medals at the 1908 Olympic Games.

His father also had an interest in engineering and had a collection of model engines which interested the young John.

At the time shipbuilding was still seen as a craft industry but larger ships were starting to be built.

By 17, John had built a fast 36-foot steamboat ‘Nautilus’.

His father sent him to Glasgow University to study naval engineering.

He then worked in the drawing office of John Elder&Co in Govan before setting up John Thornycroft &Co in 1886 in Chiswick on the River Thames.

In 1896, Thornycroft branched out into building coaches, buses and trucks with a steam van using its marine launch boiler.

He used the internal combustion engine from 1907 and the Basingstoke factory supplied nearly 5,000 vehicles used in the First World War.

In 1869 John presented a paper to the Institution of Naval Architects. He had developed a formula for the resistance of a ship's hull when moving through water. This enabled an accurate prediction of the required power.

His dream was to design a fast boat that would skim the water surface and therefore reduce resistance. His research has led to the hydrofoils of today.

Thornycroft was developing a reputation for fast craft with one the ‘Miranda’ achieving 20 knots. In 1870 the British Admiralty needed fast launches to take the new Whitehead torpedo to its targets. Thornycroft built the first torpedo boat, HMS Lightning, for the Royal Navy. By the First World War his 55 foot coastal boats could achieve 40 knots and were used in attacks on Zeebrugge and Ostend.

It was John’s son Edward who acquired the site of the Mordaunt yard in Southampton.

John Thornycroft was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1893 and was knighted in 1902.

From 1873 to 1924, Sir John took out more than 50 patents and not just in the marine field. The inventor also covered many areas from the extraction of beet sugar to door hinges.

Ill health forced him to retire to a house at Steyne in Bembridge on the Isle of Wight.

He continued to experiment and had an experimental water tank at his home to test hull designs.

He was assisted by his daughter Blanche who became one of the first women to become a member of the Institution of Naval Architects.

During the First World War, he devised a coastal motor boat for the Admiralty that could safely travel over minefields.

John Thornycroft died on June 28, 1929 and is buried in Bembridge.

His son and grandson both went on to become chairmen of his company.

The Thornycroft name disappeared from the motoring business by the 1960’s.

The Woolston yard, affectionately known as Thorny’s, was closed in 2003 and the area has since been developed as housing.

Martin Brisland is a tour guide with .